Jacqueline Marsh (left) and Nina Kuscsik don’t really know each other, but they have history in common: They both ran the six-mile Crazylegs Mini Marathon in 1972, two of the 78 women to enter the first women-only road race in the world.
This morning, holding a vintage T-shirt from that first year as they posed for photos to mark the 40th anniversary of the race now known as the NYRR New York Mini 10K, they bantered like old friends.
Kuscsik: “You didn’t wash yours?”
Marsh: “No, I don’t think I did. Did you ever think we would be a legend?”
Kuscsik: “That isn’t why we did it.”
Marsh: “We just loved to run.”
When she won the inaugural race, Marsh—Jacqueline Dixon at the time—was a 17-year-old high school student, a serious track runner and member of the San Jose Cindergals. Kuscsik, a 33-year-old mother of three from New York City, had just that spring become the first official women’s winner of the Boston Marathon and would go on to win the New York City Marathon that fall. She finished third in the inaugural Mini.
Kuscsik was well known in the Northeast, and given bib #1 for the race. Kathrine Switzer wore #2. Dixon, a Californian who was invited to the race at the last minute after she finished second in the Bay to Breakers 12K, was given bib #5. They were all used to racing against men, but this was something entirely different.
“It was a little bit terrifying, not knowing anything about the competition,” Marsh recalled. “I was told these were the best women distance runners in the country. In my mind, I thought I was one of them, but I didn’t know.”
She soon found out, breaking the tape—a banner so large that she was confused and considered stopping before she ran into it—in 37:01. “Bay Girl N.Y. Victor” read the headline in the San Francisco Examiner, which as a sponsor of the Bay to Breakers race had financed her trip.
While Kuscsik has remained active in the running world, Marsh had to give up the sport. She returned to New York in 1982 for the 10th anniversary of the race, and she hoped to qualify to run in the first Olympic Marathon Trials for women in 1984 but was thwarted when she was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a form of heart disease. She no longer runs.
In addition to the race T-shirt, Marsh brought a scrapbook of clippings and photos from the event. They serve as her prize; while the woman who wins the 2012 version will take home $10,000, Marsh took home hotel stationery as a souvenir.
“I don’t know whether it would have enriched our lives,” said Kuscsik of prize money. “I’m happy we did it when we did it.”
Marsh concurred. “I was there to run,” she said. “I was there to race.”
“Our races are to our sport what Wimbledon and the Australian, U.S., and French Opens are to tennis, and what the Masters, U.S., and British Opens and PGA Championship are to golf. Each race has the history, the tradition, the honor roll of legendary champions, and a special place in the eyes of all to make them stand apart from the other events.” Mary Wittenberg